Lakeland Electric is not just a power company, it is us, locally owned and locally controlled.
We received the phone call late on Oct. 18.
Jill, a friend and co-worker, called to say, “Are you watching the news? There is a tornado near our office and heading toward Kathleen!” By the next morning we were seeing images, the wake of destruction. I was awestruck by the overturned semi-truck and saddened to hear about the devastation that hit Kathleen Middle School.
I was concerned about our facility at Madden Branded Goods. Although I was relieved to discover a power outage and some minor flooding was all that we had to deal with, I was distraught to see the Lugar de Restoracion church. Its roof was tossed aside and the body of the building was shredded to rubble. Power lines were down on New Tampa Highway, but super heroes were already at the scene.
The tornado’s wreckage was severe. I thought we would be without power all week. We were scrambling to figure out what to do about product scheduled to be printed and shipped to our customers. My husband, Steve, and I kept a close eye on Lakeland Electric’s outage map, with its detailed outage information, estimated time of restoration, crew status and live weather radar.
We were thankful for this new tool, and were able to mitigate the minor flooding effects while waiting for the power restoration timeline. We couldn’t believe the estimate. How in the world could they have power back on by Sunday night?
As a Lakeland city commissioner, I stay pretty informed about Lakeland Electric; however, when a storm wreaks havoc, you see first-hand what your utility is made of.
We have more than 500 LE employees who understand that LE customers are the number one priority, not outside shareholders. Why? Because since 1904, we have been publicly owned. Lakeland Electric provides our citizens affordable, dependable and sustainable power, and it has paid us rich dividends over 115 years.
I enjoyed watching an Instagram video from the Saturday Market downtown. LE asked people, “How much do you think Lakeland Electric contributes to roads, parks and recreational amenities annually?” The answers ranged from $250,000 to the correct answer, which is, wait for it, $30 million!
As a city commissioner, I am proud to say that LE has a strong credit rating. I am also proud of our innovation and efficiencies gained by advanced technology. I had the privilege to attend both a national American Public Power Association and state Florida Municipal Electric Association public power conference this past summer. Korey Bush, chief electric system operator for LE, presented a new database solution called DARTS, Damage Assessment Restoration Tool Set, at FMEA, thanks to an innovative in-house team of LE employees. This was presented as a best practice, and it was a valuable resource after the tornado tore through our territory.
There is no recovery without our first-responders. Our Lakeland Electric lineman are second to none. New Tampa Highway took 48 hours to restore, and our lineman were there for the first 18 to 20 hours before they received relief from our friends from the Orlando Utilities Commission. I love the beautiful lineman sculpture on the LE lawn that celebrates and recognizes their heroism. More than 20 poles were broken, and more than 50 spans of wire were down after the storm, and yet power was restored to everyone who could accept power within 48 hours.
That is amazing.
We enjoy so many benefits from having a municipally owned utility. Public power allows us to tap into a state and national network of mutual aid. Our employees live local, so they can respond quickly to storm related outages. Our call center is here in Lakeland, and during the recent storm, our average call wait time was nine seconds. Many are still dealing with damage to homes, schools and businesses, but I love what the pastor of Lugar de Restoracion said about his church building, “This is not the church. The church is the people.”
Similarly, LE is not just a power company, it is us. The employees are our neighbors, friends and family, and all of us are the customer-owners. LE is locally owned and locally controlled. Let’s make sure that OUR Lakeland Electric is locally loved and appreciated.